Becky Harman's Research

In the Van the Walle lab, I am working on 2 projects. One is a comparative study of dog, cat and human mammary tumor cell lines to validate these small companion animals as models of human breast cancer. Historically, murine models have proved indispensible for the study of human breast cancer, but they do have some limitations, the most significant being that tumors arise spontaneously in humans, but must be induced in most mouse models, and that long-term follow up is limited due to the short life span of mice. Dogs and cats develop mammary tumors spontaneously and live 5-10 times as long as laboratory mice, which may make them valuable supplementary models in which to study human cancer. We have found that breast tumor cell lines in dog, cat and humans show similar expression patterns of a gene linked to cancer progression in humans, and respond similarly to the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-AzaC, validating the importance of dogs and cats as models for human breast cancer.

figure figure
Canine mammary adenocarcinoma cells Equine mesenchymal stem cells embedded in
stained with MitoTrackeralginate capsules

My second project is to study the effects of factors secreted from equine mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) on cutaneous skin wounds in vitro, particularly in terms of hypergranulation tissue (HGT) formation. Horses and humans are the only mammals to spontaneously develop HGT (called exuberant granulation tissue in horses and keloid scar tissue in humans) making horses a good translational model for the study of this type of scar formation. We have found that factors secreted from MSC promote cutaneous wound healing in our model and we are currently carrying out experiments to see if these factors can reduce the formation of HGT.